Why Union Matters

As a new teacher, back in the day, the idea of being a part of a union was fairly new to me. I had very little idea of what unions do and how they support the professional and mental well-being of people like me. I recall hearing varying opinions about ETFO, as a union body, as well as learning about some of the ways colleagues interacted with their local and/or provincial union. However, I wanted to find out for myself what my union was all about, what they could do for me and what I could do for them.

A personal story: My very first interaction with my union came at a very pivotal point in my career. My first job in 1999  was as a LTO teacher in Toronto. It was shortly after the amalgamation of the six cities into one mega city, and many of the administrative roles and responsibilities at the various board offices were still going through reorganization. After working for a month, I realized that I wasn’t getting paid and my bills were piling up. Though I submitted all the necessary paperwork and documentation to the board on time as directed, apparently I was nowhere to be found in their payroll system. Every time I called payroll to find out what was going on, I was redirected to someone else based on my last name. At one point, I was told that I was calling the wrong board office and was given another number to call. Apparently that person was out of the office and no one else was able to respond to my issue at that time, so I was given another number to contact, and so on and so on. This continued for another two months and I had no idea what else to do to solve the problem. One day, I shared this issue with a colleague, who happened to be our school’s union steward. She gave me instructions on how to contact my union with all the necessary information and documentation of my issues with getting paid. I contacted the union and, to my surprise, the very next day I got an emergency cheque from the board. Two weeks later my regular pay was deposited into my bank account and I have had no issues with payment ever since. That was my introduction, and the start of a great partnership, with my union and the connection has grown stronger over the years. 

As I got more involved in the union in my role as union steward, volunteering on various local and provincial committees, attending ETFO’s annual general meetings as a delegate and representing ETFO at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Project Overseas program, I began to learn a lot about why union matters. I learned that ETFO not only fights for better wages and working conditions of its members, ETFO fights to improve equitable access to publicly funded public education. ETFO also advocates to ensure that members’ working conditions are safe and free from harassment and oppression. I also like the fact that members have access to professional development and quality teaching resources and support to ensure high quality student learning and achievement. I believe in a strong partnership between the union and the school boards across Ontario. A strong partnership would help to ensure that members feel safe at work and students receive high quality education in an equitable and inclusive environment. I know that not everyone might have had the same experience with their union as I did, but what remains true is that, together, our union makes us strong. 

For more information about your union, visit: EFTO

A Year in the Life: Collective Bargaining Committee

(This is post #3 in an ongoing series. For earlier posts, click here and here.) 

Around two years ago, I did something bold, for me: I put my name forward to run for a non-released position with my local. I’d been my school’s steward for several years by that point and had also attended the annual meeting in Toronto a few times. I’d served four years on a provincial standing committee. It felt like taking a more active leadership role within my local would be a good next step to get involved.

In my local, there are a variety of elected positions available to members, from released officers (our president, VPs, and chief negotiator) to non-released executive positions. The one I chose was the Collective Bargaining Committee – a group comprised of the chief negotiator and twelve others elected by the local. It’s a large committee whose responsibilities are primarily, as you might expect, related to bargaining and defending our collective agreement – but there are other duties, too, which I’ll get into in a minute.

Sending the e-mail to put my name forward was the easy part. Just a push of a button, really. It was everything that came after that which made me nervous. Despite having a job where I stand in front of people and talk all day, despite having done a lot of theatre in my youth, the idea of getting up in front of my local and giving a speech was terrifying. But I did it! I may have put off writing my speech until the last minute, as always, and I may have been petrified the entire time, but I got up there, made my case, and was elected to the CBC.

I’m in the second year of my 3-year term now. I’ve really enjoyed my time serving on the CBC, and boy, what a time I chose to be in this position. Between provincial bargaining, local bargaining, and the pandemic, it’s been… interesting, to say the least.

So, what does a member of the CBC do?

It’s worth noting that all locals have slightly different structures, and the position I have here may not exist in your local. Keep that in mind!

Naturally, our primary responsibility as CBC is to negotiate and administer the local collective agreement. During that process, we meet as a group to discuss membership priorities, collaborate on a preliminary submission for bargaining (our first presentation to the employer of what we’re looking for), and elect representatives from our committee to sit on the table team (the people who are actually there in the room when bargaining is happening).

I have to say, it can be very empowering to see your suggestions actually get put into the preliminary submission that goes to the table. Even if your suggestion feels like a small thing at the time, it’s exciting!

Beyond bargaining, however, we also have other duties throughout our terms. We have several committees which we serve on jointly with our employer, some which are a regular part of our year (such as staffing) and others which are shorter-term. During staffing, we collectively monitor the vacancy lists as they’re posted to ensure that nothing wonky happens along the way. There’s an annual survey sent to members to ensure that the CA is being followed and check in on members’ working conditions (e.g. 20 minute instructional blocks, adequate prep and supervision time, etc.) that we review. We hear about grievances (in vague details, to be clear) and discuss issues that we have heard or witnessed in schools.

We also discuss really important issues during our discussions on bargaining – such as when to go with what the majority of members have asked for and when we have a duty to fight for something even if it isn’t one of the highest-ranked priorities of members. Sometimes, the needs of the few must outweigh the needs of the many, particularly when dealing with equity issues.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I threw my name into the running for this position, but I’m really glad I did. My term will be up at the end of the 2021-22 school year, so I’ll need to decide if I’m going to try for a second term or look for other opportunities. No matter what I decide, though, this has been an incredibly valuable experience that taught me a lot about my local and collective bargaining.

The cold coffee song

 AKA – A parody on a familiar melody dedicated to teachers who finished as strong, after a tough year, if not stronger than the cold beverages in their cups.

Pt 1 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

Yes I like drinking cold coffee!
And ignoring my chronic back pain.

I am out of the classroom,
At home by pandemic and fate

It’s really hard to be teaching,
sharing through cold blue screens.

It’s become easy to breakdown,
seeing students struggling each day.

Yup, it’s been rough one folx. We have come so far together and we all know that the journey is just beginning. When we look back to the start of the year in September 2019, no one would have believed that we would only be voting on a contract now. No one would have believed  that we would fund our sub-cost-of-living raises by standing up for our rights on the picket lines for 6 days. And no one would have believed that we would not see our students in real life this year past March Break. Judging by what has transpired already, I am pretty sure that the future will be equally unbelievable.

Without a doubt, we’ve shared many highs and lows in our profession over the past 10 months. We have stood together. We have found ways to make a terrible situation nearly tolerable. We have worked from home in makeshift offices at the peril of our own physical detriment. We are all grieving the loss of milestones (graduations, trips, community, playdays, track, and farewells) for the classes of 2020. Yet, we still came up with innovative ways to honour them.

We have parented through a pandemic, and cared for our parents too. We have watched vulnerable communities further separated from opportunities. We witnessed the inequity that exists in presumptions around access and “emergency distance learning.” In all of this we have maintained the dignity and duty of care everyday. On occasion, we even remembered to look after ourselves.

And even though direction from the elected only spilled out like water from a kinked hose, we knew what to do because we knew our students. So when the messages changed it didn’t matter that they came out at the end of the day on a Friday after hours or at all. In the end, teachers knew how to do right by their students. This even meant going on treasure hunts to find marks to fill report cards using a very vague map to cover a number of broad areas.

For my liking, I would love to have scrapped the focus on any marks for this term, and worked within a pass/not yet model.

Pt 2 (sung to the chorus of Escape, The Pina Colada Song by Rupert Holmes)

I am not into health spas.
I won’t ride on busses or Go Trains.

I am not into incomplete reporting
though the data sets must be gained.

I don’t like marking work til midnight
or going without sunlight for days.

I have been teaching from my basement,
and there’s no chance of escape.

The deeds are done and we can look back on them knowing that each teacher poured their heart and soul into their artistry as educators. Like any good gallery, the masterpieces ranged in complexity and beauty regardless of the eyes of the beholder. I’ll leave you with the last chorus to sing however you’d like.

At the heart of education,
We’ll stop at nothing to create,

To make the best of bad situations,
and challenges so hard to relate.

Can’t wait until we’re back in the classroom,
To learn, laugh, and say remember when?

It’s the year that no one planned for,
and hope will never happen again.

Thank you for all of your support over the past year. Wishing you a safe and relaxing summer. Celebrating you all with a cup of something cool and refreshing after I finish this cold cup of coffee.

 

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning.

This blog title could also read, “Why a small fraction means so much to the future?”

I am trying to make sense out of some pretty important numbers that are affecting us. By us, I mean students, their families, and educators. “Us” also means the entire fabric of society that we share and by which we are covered. Since the currently elected government is seeking to tear this fabric apart without regard to the long term social and financial consequences, I thought it would be good to consider this post as a cross-curricular exercise and include social studies along with the math.

Whoa!(Math)

6, the number of days ETFO members have walked on the picket line fighting for public education.
194, the number of days in a given school year that we spend in the classroom making public education incredible.

Now a few more relatable figures.

3/97 or 0.030927835, just a shade over 3%. I had to simplify the fraction. Ironically, it’s the same amount that the government has legislated an offer to 83 000 ETFO, 117 000 educators (OSSTFOECTAAEFO), and 55 000 CUPE education workers in Ontario. Yup! 1% per year over 3 years.

Back to 6/194

That hole in our paychecks from this fight to protect and preserve public education hurts and the offer of 1% per year is unconscionable. Not surprisingly, the government padded their own pockets with 14% and took 7 of the last 12 months off(insert lesson about irony here). Since we’re talking about irony, why not share a real life teachable moment? I’m thinking a critical thinking exercise about the veracity of facts, content, and the credibility of media outlets especially where they originate or how news gets fabricated.

Want another amazing lesson? Check out this thread by @ms_keats This thread offers a wonderfully considerate lesson via Twitter after the MOE suddenly made Reg 274 an issue  during negotiations with ETFO. Sadly, talks broke off, but since education is always their priority, the public can trust that the government was back to work at the bargaining table the next day because they are committed to a deal(Is sarcasm in the curriculum?). Isn’t that what unions and their employers do in good faith in a democratic society?

Wait! What?(Social Studies)

What do you mean the government wasn’t at the bargaining table?! This is a realistic expectation because we are teaching our students(grade 5) that Canada, therefore Ontario is a civilized society governed by lawmakers who are always respectful of the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I contend that the current government is engaging in a systemic violation of our Charter Rights as citizens as their thoughtless actions threaten the rights to opportunity in the future of 2 000 000 students and  the collective bargaining rights of 200 000 educators “not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. This line from the Charter is not limited to the criminal justice system, and any intentional underfunding of education through ruthless cuts is tantamount to punitive legislation and is contrary to our Charter rights.

If that wasn’t enough to light a legal inferno, then consider that a  6 – 1 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed that collective bargaining rights are human rights, and the role of collective bargaining has “in promoting the core values of “human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.”” 

I’m sharing the quote below with bolded and underlined main points, if my MPP, the MOE, or the Premier read this;

“the Supreme Court proclaimed labour rights to be human rights, and boldly declared for the first time that collective bargaining is a “constitutional right” supported by the Charter.

So our elected officials who have violated the Charter should now have to face the consequences for their malevolent disregard for the rights of its citizens. Right? I won’t hold my breath as legal cases against governments spend years in the courts. However, we cannot allow our elected officials to rule by decree without accountability to the whole public whom they have sworn to serve.

Civics does not equal civility

When will they pay for selling out the future and for the harm they will inflict to the well-being of the students in our province?  We will not lose count of the lies, the streams of misinformed statements, the factless rhetoric, the accusations, the doubling down, the vilification of our noble profession, and of the requests we have made for them to come to the table and negotiate.

I also contend that the current government is angling its way towards a secondary agenda authored by pernicious profit seekers including publishers and private education providers looking for a piece of the public education pie. These steps do not appear to benefit our students. Our steps on the picket line have shown more to the public of our commitment to excellence than any sound bite, attack, or child care bribe put forth by the government. There is strength in our numbers. 

Come to think of it, I have kept count of the steps I have stepped – 90 000 plus, the waves I have waved to drivers honking in support – 1 000s, the dozens of encouraging conversations conversed on the picket line, and the 3 people who waved with their middle fingers while yelling single syllable words.

It’s my first strike as an educator. Yet, it feels like our current fight against this government’s assault on public education is nothing new. Everyone remembers what Mike Harris and his ilk did in the 90s. The Ford Regime is Harris 2.0 complete with vitriol and misinformation spewing from a cadre of party whipped sychophant proxies acting as media drones du jour. In response, teachers are standing in solidarity together fighting for respect, transparency, and fairness on behalf of all Ontarians who will be directly affected by cuts to education now and in the future.

Teachers believe this so much, that have given up 3% of our wages already. We know that we are part of a world class education system because we work in it everyday. The results speak for themselves which is why it is so frustrating to see people trying to dismantle what is working well.

6/194 is a small fraction especially knowing how teachers, especially in 1997, fought for us. This will mean even more to the students of Ontario who will bear the burden or benefits because of our actions in the future.

Thank you for reading and for sharing on social-media.

Further reading:

This Collective Bargaining Rights Day, Unions Celebrate Wins for All Workers

My Experience Teaching With No Collective Bargaining and No Teacher Unions…Part Two

In my first year of teaching, some days went very well and other days I was ill equipped to support my students with what they needed. My students came from some very difficult homes. Many had addiction, drug dealing, and consistent violence in the home. One student that I will remember for my entire career shared with me that his job in his home was to hide in the closet while his mother turned tricks and  steal money from the John’s wallet before his mother finished. My students were very quick to anger and had very little in the way of self regulation or an ability to talk through their problems. As one student explained to me, to survive in their neighborhood, you had to punch first. My students needed so much more than I was able to give them. They needed counselling, mental health supports, addiction support and anger management interventions. None of which I was trained in at teacher’s college. They needed people who specialized in all of these areas supporting them and rooting for their success in school. Much of my time at school was spent trying to build relationships with my students so they could actually trust me enough to let me teach them. The majority of my students were 3 or 4 years behind in reading, and writing was an incredibly frustrating experience for all of them. They had needed reading intervention many years before they met me and needed additional supports that just didn’t exist in my school. There was no special education support or Educational Assistants. The guidance department in my school was completely overwhelmed trying to meet the needs. There was just me. A brand-new teacher with all the heart in the world but very ill equipped to support children through daily trauma. The system did not have enough supports to meet the students’ needs.

Just as my students were not supported, neither was I as a brand-new teacher. On one particular day, I had a lesson that was not going well. One of the students in my class had an altercation with another student the night before and was having extreme difficulty being in the same room with him. During this lesson, he got up and attacked the other student. At this moment, a senior teacher at the school came into my classroom and sat down and told me that I was being evaluated by her. I was not notified of this evaluation and I was not clear about the parameters of the evaluative process. The teacher stayed and heavily criticized me for my performance. The teacher did not provide me any supports or ideas of how I could improve. It was to this day one of my worst days in the profession. When I inquired about the process of evaluation in my district, I was told that the principal could assign a senior teacher any day at any point to come and observe me. The turn over rate of teachers is around 10 percent a year in this state. Without fair transparent evaluation practices and processes in place to support newer teachers, beginning teachers are not set up well to support their students.

My school was a very also a very violent place to work. There was some form of student on student or student on teacher violence daily. There were no stats collected on violent incidents and there was no accountability from administrations to follow up on violent incidents. There was never a plan to stop the violence or improve the violence within the building. What I was told on more than one incident by my administration was that I was not from here and that I didn’t understand the community I was teaching. Basically, there was no expectation for the situation to improve for the students or for the teachers in the building. Again, my students were set up to fail because there was no one looking at changing the system in which they were exposed to violence every single day.

I was also discouraged from protecting my students outside of school. During my first round of parent teacher interviews one parent stood up and grabbed a meter stick off of my blackboard and attempted to beat their child. I luckily had a phenomenal hallway of teachers that I worked with and they assisted me with stopping the parent. I went to an administrator and notified them that I would be calling child protective services. Again, I was told that I wasn’t from around her and I didn’t understand the community. There was no union to call and no support to ask for.

All of these experiences remind me why I will stand up to any cuts or erosions to our current world class Ontario education system! I stand up and fight back because….

  1. Supports for kids in need are a mandatory part of a strong education system. Taking away funding from students with special needs is not okay. Taking away funding from students with mental health needs is not okay. Taking away funding from students who need to have additional support to be successful in school is not okay.
  2.  My students deserve a well qualified, highly educated teacher. Most teachers have two university degrees and countless Additional Qualification courses. I have two degrees, 8 AQs and an extensive list of other self-directed learning to become the best teacher I can possibly be. My colleagues have Master Degrees, PHDs and College Degrees. The reason why Ontario has a world class education system is because we have world class highly educated teachers who are committed to education. un
  3. Hiring practices/Evaluation practices need to be fair and transparent. Otherwise, you end up with an entire teaching profession that looks like the principal they were hired by.
  4. Violence in school is not okay. Reported incidents needs to be transparent and analyzed to find solutions to protect all students. Every child deserves to come to school every day and feel safe. For many, it is the only place that they are able to be safe.

 

Thank you to the 83, 000 teachers that have stood up to stop the cuts to our education system over the past two weeks. The students of today and tomorrow will thank you for it!

 

 

Celebrating us

We did it.

We brought another amazing decade of learning to a succesful close with passion, creativity, and purpose. For ETFO it has been 21 impactful years in the service of public education, students, and educators.

It’s my 11th year as an ETFO member, and I am looking back at the past decade with some mixed feelings. Perhaps it is a function of the time of year when all of the best and worst lists are being shared in the media? Regardless, I am thankful to be an educator who works with wonderful students and amazing staff at a great school.

On the other hand, I am also intrepid about what is continuing to widening gap between student needs and the resources with which to support them. What will the future look like if government cuts and policies changes go unchallenged? This got me thinking about how instrumental the work of ETFO is to supporting us and I found myself browsing through pages of resources, messages, and initiatives via etfo.ca

Whether you are newer to the profession or a veteran educator, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the positive impacts made by our union that have helped us get us here, and as we prepare to for 2020.

Let’s take a moment to break down some of the numbers from 21 years of ETFO:

  1. Membership ~ Let’s use 75 000 as the mean number of teachers from past to present.
  2. Days of Instruction ~ 21 years x 190 days = 3990 days
  3. Minutes (days x 300 minutes of instructional time x membership) ~ 8.9775 x 10 ^10 minutes

For the sake of my own brain, I am going to say a lot of learning has occured as a direct result of tens of thousands of past and present caring ETFO educators. Millions of moments curated that have culminated and contributed to millions of positive impacts in and out of classrooms. Millions of moments where struggles turned into opportunities and hard work paid off. Millions of students who have gone on to do amazing things. Millions of lessons learned with millions more still to come.

Without becoming too nostalgic, I think it’s a great time to take stock of all the amazing things that have happened that have ensured the voices of elementary educators will be heard. 21 years on the shoulders of giants who have stood tall in the face of adversity to prepare a way for future teachers to succeed. To all of those who have taught before and alongside me, I am grateful.

Grateful for:

21 years of lessons learned in and out of the classroom.
21 years of remaining on the cutting edge of technology and ongoing teacher training
21 years of inclusivity and equity
21 years of looking out for the safety, mental health, and wellbeing of our membership
21 years of dispelling myths with facts
21 years of commitment to something bigger than themselves
21 years of standing up for students, their families, and to make public education better/stronger 
21 years of fighting against the malicious mandates of socially and fiscally tyrannical governments
21 years of solidarity

Such success is something to celebrate. Especially, with a strike mandate of 98% in favour this past Fall. Our collective voices and our profoundly positive professional impact will not be dismissed or ignored.

While certain media factions seek to villify our profession, we know that we possess the power to light the way for public education well into the coming decades. When elected officials undermine our collective good in the short term, we remain focused on the future by standing together now. Side by side, ours are the shoulders to stand on.

As I shared earlier in this post, the numbers show that the possibilities grow everyday an ETFO educators enters a classroom. Bring on 2020!

Cheering you on everyday and looking forward to celebrating an even better future in education. Thank you for reading.

In loco contractus

It has taken a lot of restraint to ignore the volumes of micro-aggressive, passive aggressive, aggressive, and macro-aggressive comments flying around the Twitterverse about education since our most recent contract with the government expired this past August.

And then there is the elected official du jour with the education portfolio.

I have tried not to focus on the orchards of low hanging fruit being grown by our current Education Minister at the behest of his leader and his agenda. Elected or not, it is imperative of this incumbent and every other MPP to serve the public better. This means, any disinegenous attempts to villify our profession through weak one-liners and scripted media apperances as a scare tactic have to end. Saying you want a deal and then not bargaining will never be deemed as negotiating.

Despite not having a contract, all educators continue their tireless work on behalf of students to educate, encourage, and move forward even though our government managed to cut teachers and course offerings, and then wrote themselves a nearly 5 month absence note with a retro-active pay raise for good measure. This is not a sustainable situation. It is however, a recipe for a toxic and uncertain future.

What the province’s students need now is a government that sees, supports, and serves them and not the interests of corporate bullies or privateers bent on profiting from manufactured crises in public education. Instead they are blasted with a daily dose of misinformation without consideration of the present or the future. Our youth deserve a future and the truth.

This is what they are getting.

In between not negotiating, there have been absolutely zero authentic moments when this elected official sat at the table, conducted meaningful dialogue with teachers, or made an unscripted appearance at a public school without a camera crew. Maybe he should read my Undercover Boss post.

Instead it’s a steady stream of steamy slurry being served to the public via social media and scripted segments. #somethingsmells

Ontario education minister deletes tweet after social media backlash

“Lecce’s office told Global News on Thursday that the location of the photos was chosen due to timing and convenience, saying the decision was not made in an effort to avoid going to one of the province’s public schools but instead so as not to create a disruption.”

https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2019/11/minister-of-education-statement-on-first-day-of-work-to-rule.html

“My negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good-faith bargaining 24/7, to reach the deals Ontario students and families deserve. There is a path to a deal, and it requires all parties to be reasonable and fair and put the needs of our children first.”

https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2019/11/statement-from-education-minister-on-osstf-strike.html

“Strikes hurt kids. Our Government has been clear, we want deals that keep students in class. For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our Government.”

Cue Dr Carol Campbell from OISE and a litany of very committed educators who, to no surprise, have provided the corrections and descriptive feedback. Follow the thread all the way through. I especially like the part where the OntGov will never leave the table and be available 24/7. The OSSTF is also working hard at fact checking the M.O.Ed’s claims. #onceateacheralwaysateacher

There is nothing helpful about using the hashtag #strikeshurtkids that could ever be considered conscionable compared to the budget cuts being inflicted in our province. For so many people concerned about the public purse, a vision prescription update may be forthcoming to help them see the red ink that will stain the ledgers of future generations of Ontarians. When the people are denied adequate and equitable access to the world class education system that already exists in Ontario, the costs will make the current deficit look like an OLG winfall. The shortsightedness of this will end up costing us all. #antithetical #malfeasance or #unethical #incompetance

Think of overburdened social service systems, the disenfranchisement of students who have had their course options stolen, or of the marginalized/at-risk youth who deserve more interactions with opportunities and adults who are equipped to support them. Think about the danger to the economy of an underprepared/underserved workforce. This is why we need to keep up the struggle and fight against the visionless economic tyranny of the day. #cutshurtkids

Cuts Hurt Us All

Not to be overlooked, our collective rights as a union are being threatened by a pack of budget wolves that is blind to all but the bottom line. Few if any, have ever dared to step foot into the very institutions they wish to “save” and witness the magic and miracles being performed by teachers and support staff everyday without a press conference or a contract. Now that’s putting students first. #ETFOStrong

Undercover Boss

Have you ever watched a show called Undercover Boss?

An average episode of the hour long program shows a CEO or top tier exec going incognito to better understand the work flow, flaws, and family of an organization. The show makes sure that the top dog is put alongside some pre-selected employees(often outspoken) who, fearlessly or not, walk the “newbie” through a day in the life at their job.

In most episodes, there comes a moment when a budget-line-watching-number-crunching-corner-office-seat-occupier realizes how their top down edicts are negatively impacting the organization until they see it from the perspective(s) of the workers. At this point in the show, regardless of profit and loss statements, the executive works to make things right, realizing that if things were better for the workers, the bottom line would benefit too. A win win outcome right?

I love TV. It creates narratives to suit itself. Moreover, despite a proliferation of reality TV programs, the medium remains irreal. Much like any Disney offering, TV has conditioned us to expect a happy ending that is far away from everyday experiences. If all goes accordingly, good always triumphs over evil, a hero will emerge, and on the show Undercover Boss, at least, some lucky employees will help their bosses to miraculously see the light and improve the company. This is not the current case between the government and public education in Ontario.

I would love it if our elected officials had the courage and conviction to do this for longer than the time it takes to convene a photo opp or craft a sound bite. I wonder why this is rarely, if ever, true when it comes to government and education. Other than clichés about how much the students come first and the importance of educators, hollow words do not mirror the devastating actions that senseless cuts are having on public education.

As such, we have seen neither the current Premier nor the Minister of Ed spending any meanigful amount of time with the people on the frontlines like an undercover boss. Since they are making decisions that affect everyone working in education, we all deserve to see and know that they are completely aware and informed.

I have never heard genuine words of understanding from elected officials that qualify them to make the decisions they are making which will ultimately impact our society for generations to come. In its wallet.

With so much attention placed on the bottom lines of provincial budgets, it becomes an easy target for outsiders to look across a spreadsheet and proclaim cuts can be made and no one will ever feel it without duty of care or context. This is not unique to education either.

This past year has revealed many glaring differences about how information is being (mis)used, bent, and or weaponized to suit political agendas. As such this misuse of information seems like systemic micro and macro-aggressions towards our profession, the public education system, and our students.

Which leads me to this question. How can a system of the people for the people be so myopic in its duty and dilligence? Isn’t the idea of education for all to actually provide education and therefore opportunity for all? With all of the time that governments and bureaucrats spend poring over the books, they have conveniently missed the direct cost implications of intentional systematic underfunding.

Here are some things to consider.

  1. Loss of education opportunities limits the number of skilled and quality workers contributing to the economy. That means more spending and tax dollars from higher wage earners.
  2. Economic cuts reduce opportunities for many people already living on the margins of society. That means cuts to education is a form of systemic discrimination towards many communities.
  3. Cuts to course offerings hurt the wrong people when those who can afford it can simply shift to a private school.Even my elementary students are shaking their heads about how traditional courses that lead to Post Secondary Science and Engineering courses are being limited or disappearing from local high schools. (see what is happening in my board @ YRDSB)
  4. Cuts to OSAP hurt the wrong people too. Rich kids will still go to post-secondary school, while marginalized students will have their futures moved further out of reach.
  5. Refusing to fund education to the fullest is a recipe for social disaster.  If we cannot agree on this, then we are agreeing to leave the next generation worse off than the last. When private schools are advertising that they have the courses that have been eliminated from our public schools, there is a problem.

None of the above are acceptable.

Our parents did not struggle and sacrifice for this. My mom and dad did not work full and part time for this. Neither did yours. Students and their families do not make sacrifices for this. No one would ever vote to limit the future of opportunity of its youth. Neither would a sensible and caring society allow anyone to slip through the cracks. Unless they had an agenda to undermine Canada as a civil society. The actions of our elected officials appear specious at best when it comes to education.

Our work brings value far beyond any budget lines could ever define because it brings human possibilities forward everyday. Reducing and removing opportunities also removes relationships that empower students into the future. Restricting or taking away someone’s access to education is simply an affront to all humanity. We are difference makers, miracle workers, and advocates for all of our students. We are working hard to change the narratives that have become a distraction in public education.

We are fighting to be heard and respected, let alone seen and understood, by politicians who prefer to take cover behind short sighted populist agendas that seek to serve the bosses rather than the people who work for them. It’s time for their eyes and minds to be opened.

What if every school could welcome an undercover boss(politician)? Maybe then, these decision makers would truly see the commitment, struggle, and value of our fight for students, their families, and this noble profession. My door is always open. No photographers please. It’ll disrupt the learning.

Fight on. #CutsHurtKids #ETFOStrong

Further reading

York board says bigger class sizes forced cancellation of 123 high school courses. 

What Exactly Is Happening To Ontario’s Education System? What You Need To Know

Financial facts on Canadian prisons

Beyond

Did anyone else go to sleep on the last night of school already thinking about next year? I did.

It’s not the first time either. After 10 years in education, it is now a given that I will go to sleep on the last day of school reflective, happy, and excited about the past, present, and future of this calling.

2 sleeps into the Canada Day long weekend and the reflections continue. Along with my REM time retrospectives (not the band, although they are awesome) come some big looks forward to September. It’s okay if you think this is not normal. I’m good with it. It’s not above, but it is definitely beyond what I ever expected to happen the very moment I started teaching.

For me, it is a great time to look back and recognize the growth over a school year at the speed of learning. It is also a time to reflect on the emotional highs and lows and to unpack the instructional tool kit for some much needed organization and maintenance. However, this June seems a bit different because of the current political climate in Ontario. This has me thinking even more about the importance of some advanced preparations. And why not?

I do this now because the year is still fresh in my mind. Whether I can control it or not, I remain in teacher mode – my internal alarm clock is still waking me up on teacher time. Since it takes time to wind down, I might as well wean myself off bit by bit and I know there must be many others out there as well going through eduwithdrawal. Want proof? Check out #onted on Twitter. There is still so much happening on an hourly basis directly relating to eduction.

Consider this recent tweet from Sam Hammond to our newly appointed MOE Stephen Lecce. It appears that despite going on a nearly 5 month break from the legislature, the new minister was concerned that teachers did not know their schedules.screenshot-twitter.com-2019.06.30-20-35-53
You’ll come to your own correct conclusions about the collection of castigating contrarians currently in public office. I have. With so many educators still in teacher mode, more are becoming actively engaged in challenging the effrontery of messages like Lecce’s. This is in order to protect all students from the political dynamite intended to undermine the bedrock upon which our stable and progressive society was built. It may be Summer, but time out of the classroom can be well spent in dispelling false claims and  controversial assertions coming from the ruling party.

One of the biggest loads of misinformation in need of incineration has been the outright promise that no teacher jobs will be lost. This has been a massive cause of concern as class sizes have been co-opted. It has also come with the staggering and sad losses of positions for many amazing educators. Many who continued to go beyond the job in order to serve their students all the while holding the cards of an uncertain future.

Someone who is going beyond to inform us all is Andrew Campbell. He curates a comprehensive document that shows how the cuts to education are affecting our profession by the numbers and from board to board. Warning, this might provide many with night terrors if they read it before bedtime.

This is what keeps teachers awake at night. We have to deal with stunted salvos like the one above from Mr Lecce and disrupt its corrupted political narrative. We must take a stance for the students whose voices and opportunities are being stripped down to the basics in act that will only destabilize their future by limiting their access to education. This is beyond anyone’s mandate or scope of power. No decent citizen voted in the hope of shortchanging the future of our youth.

In order to get past it, we must go beyond signing petitions or retweeting.

So stay up late.
Write a letter to your MPP.
Support and encourage one another.
Read up on the issues via @ETFOeducators on Twitter or via the Building Better Schools website.

We must go beyond the government insults, the inexplicably random policy choices, the gutting budget cuts, the acrimony, the villification, the distrust, the disingenuous praise, and the indifference because the 2 million students who we are fighting for are worth it.

There is something each of us can do to make sure our collective voices are heard. Sharing yours in July and August while you rest, recharge, and prepare for September will ensure that our support of students will be heard loud and clear all Summer too.

When the bells ring again in September, our answer to the ruling party will be in the form of 83 000 + strong devoted educators each ready to teach far beyond the destructive discourse of a politician’s disputes, and instead straight to the hearts and minds of our students like we always do.

Best to you all this Summer. Thank you for a great year of interaction and inspiration. See you on Twitter.

Remember to breathe (as you continue to inspire others)

I checked in on a few of my former student teachers today. Each of whom are shining examples of professionalism, commitment, and creativity in their classrooms. They have been on my mind alot lately, as daily news of the government sponsored attrition games occupy headlines and conversations across the province. I am sure they represent the hundreds, even thousands of new educators who have recently joined our calling.

It’s rough out there right now, and for many new hires to school boards the uncertainties of the day are leaving many wondering what the future holds? For each one of these amazing educators, things are changing and there is not much they can do to about it until the facts and figures are finalized. It must be difficult to know that the educational landscape is shaking beneath so many feet. We all need something to hold on through the experience.

Sharing what we have in the emotional toolbox may be all that can be done for now. I encourage everyone to keep checking in on one another as we remain united and ride out the storm. A call, an email, or time for a cup of coffee could provide a little needed encouragement. I have noticed that even veteran teachers are feeling the tension of these days too. I have caught myself stress eating, acting a little more impatient than usual, and struggling for motivation. I’ve taken to breathing exercises to slow down my busy mind. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of it all that are keeping me off my game?

To get a sense of it all I have been turning to Andrew Campbell. He curates Ontario Education Cuts. This is a list of announcements and projections from school boards and grade panels that challenges the message being delivered by the province to the public and school boards about job losses, shrinking course offerings, expanding class sizes, and shifts to online instruction.

screenshot-twitter.com-2019.04.30-20-35-35The information and numbers in this document seem to add up differently than political messages about job losses over time due to attrition and attrition alone. Maybe there is a Math Curriculum revision opportunity in the works here since such skewed accounting discrepancies exist?

What we all need is to have the complete set of numbers to work with before we can truly provide assurances to our new teachers that there will be jobs for them in education.

I remind myself that I am surrounded by incredibly dedicated and caring professionals whose lives are dedicated to making the world a better place. Stay informed. Stay encouraged. Be strong. We are all here to support and lift each other up when things get rough. Sometimes it might be a time for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Other times, it might be a simple reminder to breathe.